The Promise for Change

Abigail Breckbill traveled to Harrisburg in March to advocate for education reform through the Pennsylvania Student Power NetworkOn April 23, Millersville University is hosting an Education Justice rally in front of the McNairy Library from 10am-3pm. If you are interested in speaking at this event, are a member of a campus club that would like to support the event, or would like more information, contact Rachel Hicks. Read more about Abigail’s experiences below!

Students and faculty from across PA stood together in Harrisburg during the Pennsylvania Promise rally. MU Students Abigail Breckbill and Nathaniel Warren appear in the bottom left corner. (Photo Credit: Kathryn Morton)

On March 27, I was among a crowd of students from across PA in the Harrisburg capitol building. I joined them in chanting as they implored: Pennsylvania, keep your promise!

That promise is one that would renew investment in Pennsylvania’s future, reprioritize education, and provide opportunity to so many who desperately need it. The Pennsylvania Promise is a proposal for affordable, accessible education and would provide funding for those who, in our current educational and economic climate, find only closed doors in the form of skyrocketing tuition prices.

I first learned about the Pennsylvania Promise when I attended the 2019 Student Power Spring Break retreat, an event which brought together people from 25 campuses across the state for the common goal of learning how to better organize, plan, and advocate for change. Hosted by Pennsylvania Student Power Network (PSPN) it was an opportunity for me to meet members of our statewide community and discuss issues which affect us all, no matter our background, identity, or beliefs. It also provided me with the invaluable experience of seeing how deeply so many students are impacted by the policies that are currently in place.

Attending this retreat with PSPN was when I began to see firsthand what it takes to bring about change. It takes compassion for one another. It takes patience, and understanding, and the ability to listen to voices that are not often heard.

And it takes courage.

I found myself surrounded by people who were brilliant, determined, and inspiring. But they were also people who have been hurt. They’ve been hurt very deeply by a system which has been against them from the start. It’s easy to be afraid when you’ve been wounded before, when you know what you’re up against and how hard you’re going to have to fight. But what these people from my own community, from our community, have taught me is that rather than back away from that challenge, we must instead face it together. We, as young people, as dedicated students, as advocates for the future, can make change happen.

So when the opportunity arose to truly commit to becoming an activist, I knew I had to be there in Harrisburg. I had to take courage and speak out for change.

At the rally, we heard from a number of speakers across the state, both students and professors alike who often heartbreakingly explained the need for accessible education. For many students, making it through higher education is the only way out of the vicious cycle of poverty. They pursue a college degree as a means of creating a better life, one in which they don’t have to fear homelessness or watch their children go hungry.

But as things are, Pennsylvania has the highest rates of student debt in the nation. College students in our own communities are going hungry every day for the sake of getting an education. Rather than being the door-opening opportunity that it should be, college is often financially devastating, saddling students with debt for decades to come.

We heard from those who were forced to drop out or were not even able to attend college at all due to the costs of tuition. We heard from students who dreamed of making a better life for themselves but have to fear that it may never come to fruition no matter how hard they work. These are the people who have been hurt by the system. They must fight for change, as they have no other option.

Depressing as these struggles are, it doesn’t have to be this way.

The Pennsylvania Promise would supply two years of tuition fees to students attending community college, and four years of tuition fees for any student who has been accepted into a PASSHE school and whose parents make less than $110,000 a year. The amount of doors this would open to struggling students across the state is astounding.

Before going to Harrisburg, I understood the struggling from which activism arose. But when I found myself in a crowd of students, facing our legislators as we cried out for fulfillment of a promise we not only needed but demanded, I began to understand empowerment. I began to understand hope.

We rally not only because things need to change, but because we believe they can change.

The promise we need is one not only to reward hard work but to give hope, to invest in our community and our future. The promise is for students, and for Pennsylvania.

Abigail Breckbill